Element Church Blog

Beginning this Sunday: Proverbs - Counter Culture

Join us this Sunday as we start a new series: Proverbs - Counter Culture. Click here to download our Proverbs Reading Plan

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Didn't See That Coming Week Sixteen Gospel Statement: Eterntity

Act Six: Week Sixteen, and our final Gospel Statement is as follows:

The Gospel is the good news of the present and future love of God that teaches us to live eternity now by worshipping Jesus in all ways, including loving others by living in redemptive relationship with them no matter the race or culture.

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

Didn't See That Coming Week Fifteen Gospel Statement: Mission as Witness

Act Five: Week Fifteen Gospel Statement is as follows:

The Gospel is the good news that Jesus came as God in the flesh to proclaim the final word of grace and truth to all the world, that salvation is found in Him and Him alone.

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

Didn't See That Coming Week Fourteen Gospel Statement: New People, New Identity

Act Four: Week Fourteen Gospel Statement is as follows:

The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died and rose from death for our redemption and He promises a future hope in Him where there is nothing we will miss in this life that does not find its fulfillment in Him, because we will have all eternity to experience Him.

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

Didn't See That Coming Week Thirteen Gospel Statement: Resurrection

Act Four: Week Thirteen Gospel Statement is as follows:

The Gospel is the powerful news that by conquering death and resurrecting from the grave, Jesus is redeeming both individual lives and the whole earth back to the way of life God intended it to be; He has given us authority and power to partner with Him to renew all things by His Spirit.

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

Community Good Friday 2018 - Why Have You Forsaken Me

Good Friday

Every few years I am asked to take part in a community Good Friday service. In these services we cover the 7 last statements of Jesus. Various preachers from the community are each given one of these that we share (for 5-7 minutes) as a reflection of why we call Good Friday good. Most of you work and can’t make it to the service, so as I do every year I speak at the service, I am going to post my manuscript of what I am talking about so you can have a little piece of what the service entailed. Here you go:
 
In Matt 27:46 Jesus cries out to His Father, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" There is no other verse that causes as much controversy as this one. People have asked if this was Jesus faltering or was He questioning the Father and the plan of salvation…I will do my best to help you understand (as best we can)what is happening here in less than 5 minutes.
 
If you ask people what is salvation is from, the answers are mostly: death, sin, Satan, but Romans 5:9-10 defines salvation as deliverance by God from God and His wrath against sin. Sin destroys relationship, sin brings death, and God hates it. Death is not the stopping of our hearts or the synapses in our brain no longer firing impulses to our bodies, death is separation. It is separation from Life, from God, who is our source of life.
 
Kenneth Bailey writes extensively about Middle Eastern culture and he speaks about a 1st century Jewish custom called the kezazah.  Kezazah is a Hebrew phrase that means "the cutting off." In the story of the prodigal son a young man goes to his father and asks for his inheritance before his father died, it was very insulting and the boy is essentially telling his father he wished he was dead.
 
If a Jewish boy takes his inheritance and loses it among the Gentiles, so the Gentiles end up with all the resources that had been a part of Israel, he was seen to be cut off.The village would gather together and find a clay pot, which would be a symbol for the life of the boy, and they would break it (many times in front of the boy) on his return home. It was a way to say, "This is the brokenness that you have caused in our community."  They were showing that he had broken the trust and heart not simply of the father, but of the entire village. Broken pot, broken life, broken trust, broken community, broken faith…it was separation, “you are dead to us.” It was to show that you could never be whole, you were not welcome, and you certainly were not family.
 
In the story of the prodigal son the child loses everything and won’t go home, most likely because he knows kezazah is waiting for him. This son will end up on the very door step of starvation rather than go back, until he finally remembers the kindness of the father. But even when he remembers his dad’s character he formulates a plan work off his debt himself. This is how many people approach God today, this is why we say things like, "if I went into a church lightning would strike me" or "the walls would fall down;" it is this innate feeling of kezazah. It is why Christianity is so ridiculed by people who haven't surrendered all they are to Jesus, because to truly follow Jesus we must see and understand our own lost-ness, our own weakness.
 
When this boy does go home the father sees him and runs to him, because if the village would have caught him first the Kezazah ceremony would take place. He gets to his boy first, he embraces his son, and brings him back into family. We live post resurrection and I think we get a unique perspective on this parable, we get to look at it in light of the cross. It's like Jesus says, "If you want to know how much the Father loves you, look at the Cross, because out of Father's love for you, His own son became broken…forsaken…cut off." His body was broken on the Cross, in many ways we can never even fathom. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" On the Cross, Jesus becomes kezazah, cut off, and all this is done so we can come home.
 
1 John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.Admitting unworthiness and inability is difficult because we have spent our whole lives trying to prove we are anything but unworthy. We want to believe that our mistakes are not that bad, that deep down we are still pretty good people. But when we will acknowledge our sinfulness John’s continues: 1 John 2:1-2 “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” God has testified not only to our sinfulness, but also to His graciousness. He has told us that He so loved the world that He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus, God in the flesh, lived the life we should have lived and then died the death we had been condemned to die. By doing so He put away our death forever.
 
Advocate is a legal term, referring to someone who argues your case before the bar of justice on your behalf. Normally an advocate argues for your innocence—or that you should not be punished based on extenuating circumstances (your general good character demonstrated in other places). Our Advocate does no such thing.Jesus never argues for our goodness, He argues His righteousness in our place.
This is where Matt 27 comes in, Jesus does not argue our worthiness, He argues His substitution. We may not be worthy to be forgiven, but He is worthy to forgive us.
 
1 John 1:9 John says that Jesus is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” John didn’t say that God is “merciful” and “kind” to forgive our sins (though God is MERCIFUL and KIND), but the basis of God’s forgiveness of us is not mercy, it is justice. Jesus paid the full penalty for our sin; not an ounce of judgment remains.
 
If we think of Jesus standing before God begging for mercy, or leniency, on our behalf, it will provide little comfort. "God, can you give Aaron one more chance? He’s a good guy. Please?" We would always wonder when we would reach the end of God’s patience. But Jesus does not appeal to God for mercy on my behalf, He appeals for justice because Jesus has satisfied all the claims against me. He now says to the Father, “I paid the full price for this sin. I took the penalty due to him so that he could have the credit due to Me."
 
For those in Christ, this is the confidence we have before God. We don’t hope we are forgiven, we know it, because our standing before God has nothing to do with our worthiness, but the worthiness of the Advocate (JESUS) who now stands in our place. He was forsaken that we may be brought in. This is why there is only ONE hope for a sinful people, and it is Jesus.
 

Thank you Element for 10 great years (Video)

Thank you Element for 10 great years! Here's a look back at some of what has happened. If you missed Sunday's video, you can watch it here:

Didn't See That Coming Week Twelve Gospel Statement: Dying For Us

Act Four: Week Twelve Gospel Statement is as follows:

The Gospel is the good news that Jesus has come in fulfillment of 
all of God’s promises in the Old Testament to provide a way for us to come into the Kingdom of God by removing our sin through dying on a cross and rising from the grave; He has restored and redeemed us to be His people in the world by His sacrifice.

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

Didn't See That Coming Week Eleven Gospel Statement: The Gospel Welcomes Us All

Act Four: Week Eleven Gospel Statement is as follows:

The Gospel is the good news that even though we have segregated ourselves from God and others, God has not left us in that state; Jesus has come and liberated us through His death and resurrection to restore our broken relationship with God and others.

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

What If Someone Doesn't Believe In Baptism?

Question: I have a friend who is solid on the gospel, the good news of Jesus, but has one primary area where he believes differently than most: baptisms. He believes baptism is an early church cultural symbol and doesn’t need be practiced today. Would Element still allow this person to become a member if not baptized (due to strong belief rather than laziness)?
 
Answer: People today have many reasons why they don’t want to partake in certain rites that the church practices. I have heard the cultural objections and the personal objections to baptism, and while I believe God’s Spirit will guide us when we listen, I think a good place to start is: does your friend partake in communion? Do they see communion as something that was simply an early church custom, and that it doesn’t need to be practiced today because most people today do not understand completely what it means?
 
Most people, when you ask the question about communion say, “Well, Jesus said to ‘do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24). Similarly, Jesus also said in Matt 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
 
Simply because our current culture doesn’t understand a practice, should not mean that it is no longer valid. The church has awkward songs that we still use today, with words like “There is a fountain of blood” and “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” I would say far from jettisoning these songs, we should instead seek to educate people on the full understanding of what Jesus did “with His blood.” Not knowing the parties involved, could it be possible your friend’s stance on baptism is simply a point of pride? Sometimes people get to a point where they like to have something that sets them apart from others in doctrine and as we know, even the most godly people can easily fall into pride. I am not saying this is the case, it is just simply a question that springs to mind.  
 
I would ask your friend if this stance is a place that they have come to after prayer and seeking God’s counsel. Would they be willing to attend a baptism celebration with others to give God glory for the amazing work He has done in people’s lives? I ask these questions because it helps to understand how this person views baptism.
 
Let me also say that baptism has nothing to with salvation; we are saved by grace alone. If people are not baptized during their life on earth, it makes them no less a child of God—right standing before God and forgiveness of sin is no different. But the question you asked wasn’t about salvation; it came down to church membership at Element. We believe that the early church came together and celebrated around two main rites, communion and baptism. At Element, we also want to celebrate with one another what God is doing in our lives—this is why we celebrate baptism and communion.
 
Baptisms at Element entail a big party with food, laughter, joy, and stories that center around redemption. Before people get baptized, we have a class (we even have two versions—a long one and a short one) to educate people on what baptism represents and why we do it. Through baptism, we make a public statement about our lives and commitment to walk in the ways Jesus calls us. Baptism is not magical, but it is a deeply spiritual event that reflects the work Jesus has done in our lives. As your friend said, it is a symbol, but it also presents us with an amazing opportunity to speak of Christ’s work today. The act of baptism represents the death and resurrection of Christ, and also the truth that God is restoring and placing (immersing) us in His family.
 
The entire point for us is the public identification with Christ and His work within us. He is our great God and Savior that has come to restore a broken humanity that cannot have a relationship with God on our own. He is the Redeemer, He is the Remedy, He is the Hope, and He is our Life. At Element, we believe it is important for people around us to understand the changes that are taking place in our own lives based on the work of Christ in us. To help others understand what baptism is and what it means to those being baptized on a personal level, we ask them to share their stories in booklet form (you can read some of those here). 
 
At Element, we do require baptism as part of membership, but it is not required for involvement. We have plenty of people who are involved in Gospel Communities, serve in various ministries, and are vital to the life of Element that aren’t official “members”…(I would add the caveat ‘yet.’) Also, baptism for membership doesn’t mean you have to be baptized at Element; it simply means that you have partaken in baptism at some point. It is part of who we are. Just as baptism doesn’t save us and isn’t meant to be a badge of honor or pride, not being baptized shouldn’t be a point of contention or pride.
 
This is who we are as a church, and we do all that we do with the hope that one day everyone who attends a baptism celebration will come to the saving knowledge of trusting in Jesus with their life.

Didn't See That Coming Week Ten Gospel Statement: Light of the World

Act Four: Week Ten Gospel Statement is as follows:

The Gospel is the good news that though we have lived and walked in darkness, our God has restored us to Himself because of the work of Jesus; He now sends us out to be His light in the world.

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

Why Jesus and Not Immanuel?

Last Sunday, we covered Jesus coming as God in the flesh, and I thought it would be an appropriate time to answer a question I occasionally hear. The question comes from Isaiah 7:14 and Mathew 1:22-23: Matt 1:21-23: “’She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). The question is: “Why wasn’t Jesus named Immanuel if that’s what the prophets said we would call Him?
 
As short and simple as I can say it, Immanuel is a title and descriptor of who Jesus was (or is). This is similar to how we use POTUS (President of the United States); for the rest of a former presidents life, they are known as “Mr. President,” and not Mr. Reagan, Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Obama, or Mr. Trump. Their names are still Ronald, George, William, Barack, and Donald, but we call them by a title. 
 
When it says, “and they shall call his name Immanuel, this simply means that “God with us” is what and who He was (and is). In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet says, “and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” If that was His actual name, Jesus’ birth certificate would be pretty long! Jeremiah 23:6 states, “In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness…” That is also a pretty long title for a birth certificate. The word “LORD” is the word YHWH, God’s personal name. He didn’t call Jesus YHWH, though He was God in the flesh. All of these verses are descriptions of what Jesus would dobring God’s righteousness to His people. Like 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
 
In Luke 1:32-33 the angel says to Mary, ´He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary didn’t name Jesus “Son of the Most High God,” because she understood the angels wordsplus, in Luke 1:31, the angel said, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
 
This is why we can sing Christmas songs about Jesus being Immanuel, or say that He is the Son of God, or speak of Him being our Savior and King, and still call Him Jesus…because that’s His name (at least how Americans pronounce it anyway). 

Didn't See That Coming Week Nine Gospel Statement: God Made Flesh

Act Four: Week Nine Gospel Statement is as follows:

The Gospel is the good news that our God has called us out of the slavery we have placed ourselves in and given us a calling, 
an identity, and a new hope centered in the person of Jesus Christ.

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

Didn't See That Coming Week Eight Gospel Statement: A Broken Dynasty

Act Three: Week Eight Gospel Statement is as follows:

The Gospel is the Good news that even though we have destroyed our lives with our own selfishness, Jesus has come not just to redeem, 
but restore us to be those who live in His kingdom where He rules and reigns forever.

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

For Now or Just Then?

Today I had someone involved in our Women’s Bible Study ask a question that I hope more people would consider: “How do we know which promises are for us or the Israelites in the Old Testament?”
 
In our world today, we tend to like soundbites that we can apply to our lives, rather than look at the whole message a person is saying. Soundbites are one of the ways we can keep people from looking as bad as they actually were at times. We do this for Christian thinkers like A.W. Tozer, often remembered for the great things he wrote, but he also had a horrible marriage because of how he personally neglected his wife. We quote people like David Livingstone, the often heralded missionary giant, yet conveniently don’t talk about how he sent his family to live in near poverty in Britain and never even really knew his children. Our culture loves soundbites because we like to focus on what makes us feel (personally) good.
 
This focus on ourselves relates to how we view the Bible, as well; we take bits and pieces we like out of context because they “speak to us” or “give us what we need”…not realizing those things may not mean what we think they mean. This is a long way of saying that I appreciate a question about what promises are actually for us and which one aren’t, because as a culture, we typically think everything is for us. In one sense, it is true—it is for us…we believe the Bible wasn’t written to us per se, but it was written for us. The Scriptures were written to a particular people in a particular place in time, but the words transcend time and are useful and didactic to us today.
 
In one sense, if read correctly, the promises from the Old Testament not directly referring to specific events (Israel’s battles during the Exodus, for example), can have broad meaning. It can be read different ways because many promises spoken in the Old Testament are reiterated in various ways in the New Testament. Take as an example the promise to Joshua as he prepares to finally enter the Promised Land. God says to him in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This is most certainly a definite promise given to Joshua AND the whole people of Israel…but look in the New Testament:
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
  • Philippians 4:9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
We may not be going to conquer a land given to us by God, but God still promises to be with us. Even when telling His disciples to go out and make more disciples, Jesus says in Matthew 28 that He will be with them (which I also take to mean us when we follow the great commission).
 
It is important to remember the character of God has not changed from the Old to the New Testaments, God is the same. In Malachi 3:6 God says “I, the Lord, do not change.” In Hebrews 13:11 we are told “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” In this way, Biblical promises that don’t even directly apply to us can still reveal truths about God’s character. But…here is my issue. Many people from Western culture (like ours) don’t know how to read the promises of God in the context in which they were written. We instead read them as soundbites for us, not as words spoken to a whole people.
 
As an example, a big one people love to take out of context is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…” Our culture tends to read those words as written to “me” as an individual and not how God intended it, to a whole people; this has caused many issues today, especially within the Church. We think God wants to prosper me, God has a future for me…which is true, but not how this verse means those words. Jeremiah 29:11 is written to a whole people (the nation of Israel), who were in Babylonian captivity, essentially slaves to a world super power. He is promising these people a future and a hope (which is something they would have understood because that’s how their culture saw things, as a people, not an individual). Not everyone survived, not everyone’s children made it back, some people were tortured and killed…but as a whole, they understood that God would bring them (their whole people) back into a future and a hope…(by the way, it took seventy years).
 
I think our larger problem is trying to read specific things into the text that are not there. Think of Roman’s 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” As Western people we naturally read the word “me” into this verse, as in: “God works for the good of me.” Ancient readers would not have seen it as God obligating Himself to bring about our own perceived personal good in a situation. They would have seen this as a collective promise to “those” (plural) who love Him, who are called to His purpose.
 
Yes, God loves us (personally), yes, God wants His good in our lives (personally), but God has always intended for his followers to be a connected people who see His promises as a collective, within the overarching story of what He is doing in the world. We do much damage to our faith and to non-believers by trying to read into the Bible what is not there. We must become a people who see His promises as intended, trust them, and walk corporately together to be His priests to this world.

Didn't See That Coming Week Seven Gospel Statement: A King That Wasn’t God

Act Three: Week Seven Gospel Statement is as follows:

“The Gospel is the Good news that God is ruling and reigning and He has restored us to relationship and life with Him, so we would be His image-bearers of who He is to the world by words and actions.”

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

Didn't See That Coming Week Six Gospel Statement: Redemption: A Country

Act Three: Week Six Gospel Statement is as follows:

“The Gospel is the Good news that God is ruling and reigning and He has restored us to relationship and life with Him, so we would be His image-bearers of who He is to the world by words and actions.”

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

Didn't See That Coming Week Five Gospel Statement: Redemption: The Exodus

Act Three: Week Five Gospel Statement is as follows:

“The Gospel is the Good news that God has established His Kingdom that cannot be shaken and has restored for us citizenship in that Kingdom where we now live in a present and tangible way which helps bring that Kingdom to this earth.”

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.

 

Didn't See That Coming Week Four Gospel Statement: Call and Promise

Act Three: Week Four Gospel Statement is as follows:

“The Gospel is the good news that God has remembered us in our lost state and has  come to redeem, rename,  and restore us from our brokenness to be in renewed, life-giving relationship with Him and others.”

Click Here to listen/watch this week's message.


Q: Why does the Gospel Statement change each week?
 

The First Gospel

This blog post will actually go along with Didn’t See That Coming: Week 2, wherein we talked about how God made everything good and mankind ran in the opposite direction and fell. The message also centered on God’s promised rescue of humankind in the coming child, Jesus, who would restore us to what He made us to be—His image bearers. In that message I quoted Genesis 3:15, where God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” I said that I believe the word referring to the woman’s offspring was singular, yet the word for the serpent’s offspring was plural. Before I get questions from budding theologians, I want to answer why I say that.
 
Warning: I may lose some of you in the explanation of the words that I am about to write, and I am sorry. If you do get lost, I am simply saying that I believe when God makes this promise, which is about Jesus’ coming, that He is specifically referring to Jesus (in contrast to the serpent’s offspring, which would be all people who actively reject Jesus and seek to destroy who He is). I believe that Genesis 3:15 is the first time the Gospel was proclaimed (and it was proclaimed by Jesus Himself...hence, the preaching of the first Gospel).
 
Here we go…
 
In Genesis 3:15 there is an underlying current of headship…the snake and the woman representing more than just themselves. This is why the author is careful to notate the word “offspring,” which is actually the literal word “seed” (“offspring” is more understandable in our modern minds). The first half of the verse describes the enmity between the serpent and the woman; the second half is in regard to enmity among their seeds or offspring (“he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”). The word for offspring or seed (“zerah” in Hebrew) can be plural or singular; I believe it is plural when referring to the serpent. Though it does refer to God’s people as a whole, it is singular when referring to the woman’s eventual, specific seed (Jesus). (Notice how the verse refers to a “He.”)
 
The author lumps the serpent and his offspring together as one, and as having one goal: to try and destroy God’s image in man and ultimately stop the promise of God’s redemption. There has always been strife (or enmity) between those who hate God and those who love Him; many times, those who hate God masquerade as those who claim to love Him, doing more damage to God’s name than those with open hostility. When Jesus actually comes, he delivers on Genesis 3:15: crushing the serpent’s head (singular), while also dealing a blow to those (plural) who would seek to destroy who God called man to be, His image bearers.
 
John Sailhamer writes, “What happens to the snake’s ‘seed’ in the distant future can be said to happen to the snake as well. This suggests that the author views the snake in terms that extend beyond this particular snake of the garden…The snake is represented by his ‘seed.’ When that ‘seed’ is crushed, the head of the snake is crushed.” When we speak of the war that humanity finds itself in, we tend to forget that it is not God versus the Devil—as if anything could stand against God. The war is between man and Satan/sin/death. This is a war mankind willingly started (the rebellion in Genesis 3) and had no chance of winning. This is why God Himself came, as a man without sin, to win the war on our behalf.
 
Sailhamer points out that when Genesis 3:15 starts to talk about the woman’s seed, it looks as if it is written for a point in time far removed from the woman…as if to raise the question, “Who is her seed?” The rest of Genesis, and the rest of the Scriptures, will spend their focus answering that question. The result of the woman’s sin leads to greater pain in childbirth and strife with her husband, among other tragic consequences we see and experience today. However, the promise of Genesis 3:16 once again points to a child that would be born of a woman in fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption.
 
All of this is my roundabout way of simply restating that God knew what He was going to do to rescue man from the very start. So often we question and worry over the course of our lives, when we need to instead trust God and live out His calling for us. We were made to reflect God’s peace to the world, His goodness that He gives to us; though we have destroyed that peace and hidden that goodness behind a wall of disobedience, God Himself comes to break down that wall so we again can not only see His peace and goodness, but actually live in it (…and we didn’t see that coming)!